In 2020, those leading business meetings learned how to engage their audiences virtually. In 2021, it’s time for them to master their presentation skills at a hybrid event (where there’s a mix of in-person and virtual attendees) since they are growing in popularity. Offering a few pointers today is Alison Squillacioti, a senior program manager with American Express Meetings & Events and a certified meeting professional, who just helped to organize a 400-person hybrid event.
Work to connect with the audience
Even if you have as much energy as Tony Robbins, presenting to an audience sitting at home is a much different dynamic than presenting from a stage with a crowd 10 feet in front of you. “Speakers have to kind of change their way of thinking,” Alison said. “They’re not in a theater; they’re not in a ballroom anymore. They can’t feed off the crowd or the in-person audience. So you have to work harder to hold the attention of the virtual delegates and have to think very carefully about how to communicate effectively and engage with those who are sitting at home.” To create more of a connection with the virtual audience, Alison recommends acknowledging the attendees more, taking a few moments during the intro to welcome everyone, and looking directly at the camera when you are speaking.
Finalize your presentation early
Tip: When the meeting organizer sets a deadline for you to share the presentation program and materials, make sure you stick to it so the team has time to prepare. As Alison explained, “When you are doing an event in person, a presenter can walk into the general session room two hours beforehand and say, ‘Here you go. Here’s my final slide deck.’ Well, you can’t do that when you’re having a virtual or hybrid event. There’s a lot more testing that needs to be done to make sure everything is working.” Remember last year all the virtual meetings that went haywire when a presenter spent several painful minutes fiddling around to get the screen-sharing tool to work correctly? Don’t let that happen. Make sure the team organizing the event has everything they need ahead of time.
Practice makes perfect
There’s a lot of rehearsing that goes on when producing a hybrid event. As Alison said: “It requires more planning ahead of time doing it this way rather than being in a ballroom at a hotel when the presenter can walk in 10 minutes beforehand.” Therefore, presenters and the production/event organizing team should do a run-through of your entire program to identify and address any issues that might crop up. During the tech rehearsal, speakers should get familiar with the platform, comfortable looking into the camera, and learn how to operate any digital features – such as chat, polls, and breakouts – that they may be using. The production assistants should help also make sure the lighting and sound are satisfactory and that the background isn’t off-putting or distracting.
Show up on time
Having a dress rehearsal also can help make sure everyone keeps to the schedule, which is vital for a hybrid event. “Some virtual attendees aren’t logging on for the whole day. Some people are only attending specific sessions. So if they log on thinking that the session starts at two o’clock and you’re running behind, they’re going to log out and you’re not going to capture them,” Alison said. The meetings and events planner or production assistant should remind you several minutes before you’re supposed to be on so you don’t appear frazzled when the camera is directed toward you.
Mind your dress code
Choose what you’re wearing that day wisely. You want to stand out for the right reasons, not because your outfit creates a psychedelic effect on the screen. As Alison explained: “When you’re on stage at a live event, you can pretty much wear whatever you want. But if you’re presenting on camera, if you’re wearing something heavily patterned or striped, it could interfere with the camera and how you appear to the people at home. If you’ve got this busy shirt on, it’s going to be too busy for the camera.” So stick to solid colors and neutrals. Avoid any loud prints as well as shiny materials, such as satin or sequins, that can catch the light and distract viewers at home. You also may use makeup to reduce any shine on your face.
Tips for those presenting from their home
Leading a session from home requires additional preparations. First, think about which room you’ll be presenting from and what viewers will be seeing. Alison suggests not using a virtual background, which can look unnatural and be disconcerting, so make sure the space is tidy and that no one in your family will disturb you. If there may be too many distractions at home, you also might want to consider booking a private meeting space using our Workspaces platform. Next, consider the camera angle. “If you’re doing it off of your laptop and looking down, then you’re not looking at your audience,” Alison warned. In this case, she advises positioning the laptop higher up so that you can look straight into the camera. The right lighting also is essential – so much so that you may want to consider purchasing an inexpensive lighting kit so attendees can see you clearly. “The lighting should come from the side of you, not behind you. Otherwise, you will look washed out,” Alison said. Another necessity for at-home presenters: having a strong Wi-Fi connection that won’t suddenly crash. To reduce any awkwardness arising from those types of technical glitches, make sure you have a competent production team or event organizer who can swoop in with a backup plan.